Iraq + 1 more

Syria: EU preparing new aid for Iraqi refugees

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DAMASCUS, 7 May 2007 (IRIN) - The European Union (EU) is preparing to boost its assistance to Iraqi refugees in Syria by a further €6 million, building on the €10.2 million it gave regional partners in March.

The additional €6 million will be used by the EU to support its Syrian partners - the Syrian Red Crescent, United Nations humanitarian agencies and other NGOs - and strengthen local service providers dealing with the continuing influx of Iraqi refugees, now numbering around 1.3 million.

"A further decision is being prepared for an extra €6 million," Amadeu Altafaj-Tardio, spokesperson for Louis Michel, the European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, told IRIN from Brussels.

The money, which is not yet finalised, will not go to the Syrian government but directly to organisations on the ground and will be used to develop the capacity of local services and infrastructure to deal with the refugee situation.

"The first concern is not about figures but capacity," said Altafaj-Tardio, explaining that the main Syrian worry at the moment is "the lack of human resources such as nurses, doctors and social service providers."

"The Syrians are demanding not only funding but capacity building. They need professionals to help them with logistics."

The EU funding will be used to bolster existing relationships - established through regional work with Palestinian refugees over many decades - and build up local expertise and human resources.

Iraqi doctors

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) aims to spend its share of the extra funds to renovate, equip and train personnel in schools and hospitals who work with Iraqi refugees.

In October this year it plans to open, in conjunction with the Syrian Red Crescent, a hospital staffed by Iraqi doctors and nurses. While the Syrian medical system has been struggling to meet the health needs of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis seeking help, the potential of the many Iraqi medical professionals residing in the country has until now remained largely untapped.

Visit to Syria

The announcement of the extra funding follows a recent visit to Syria by Louis Michel during which he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and promised support in terms of EU diplomatic, logistical and humanitarian expertise.

"I promised the support of the European Commission on the technical level," Michel said after the meeting on 29 April.

Michel is also keen to establish a tripartite relationship between the EU, Syria and Iraq on the refugee issue, and hopes to broker a meeting between officials in the near future in order to establish humanitarian coordination between all three.

"We are independent and not politicised and the Syrians realise this," said Altafaj-Tardio. "Our agenda is to provide the necessary support and not to intervene. The funding is not channelled by political bodies and so it is not linked to political conditionality."

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